Civilization and Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud

Synopsis:

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud advances his own assumptions for the essential social frictions which exist in contemporary Western civilization. Freud faults the evolved mores of Christian civilization for the frictions, but recognizes the utility of some prohibitions for the conservation of social order. Regrettably, Freud carried with him – even late in life – a very shallow understanding of Christian morality, which undermines many of his assumptions.

Excerpts:

“Satisfaction is derived from illusions, which one recognizes as such without letting their deviation from reality interfere with one’s enjoyment. The sphere in which these illusions originate is the life of the imagination, which at one time, when the sense of reality developed, was expressly exempted from the requirements of the reality test and remained destined to fulfill desires that were hard to realize.

“In some way each of us behaves rather like a paranoiac, employing wishful thinking to correct some unendurable aspect of the world and introducing this delusion into reality. Of special importance is the case in which substantial numbers of people, acting in concert, try to assure themselves of happiness and protection against suffering through a delusional reshaping of reality.

“Happiness in life is sought mainly in the enjoyment of beauty, wherever it presents itself to our senses and our judgement – the beauty of human forms and gestures, of natural objects and landscapes, of artistic and even scientific creations. This aesthetic approach to the purpose of life affords little protection against the sufferings that threaten us, but it can make up for much. The enjoyment of beauty has a special quality of feeling that is mildly intoxicating. Beauty has no obvious use, nor is it easy to see why it is necessary to civilization; yet civilization would be unthinkable without it.

“No feature, however, seems to us to characterize civilization better than the appreciation and cultivation of the higher mental activities, of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements, and the leading role accorded to ideas in human life. Foremost among these ideas are the systems of religion, on whose complex structure I have tried to throw some light elsewhere; next come philosophical speculations, and finally what may be called human ideals, the notions, formed by human beings, of the possible perfection of the individual person, the nation and humanity as a whole, together with the demands they set up on the basis of such notions.

“Much of mankind’s struggle is taken up with the task of finding a suitable, that is to say a happy accommodation, between the claims of the individual and the mass claims of civilization. One of the problems affecting the fate of mankind is whether such an accommodation can be achieved through a particular molding of civilization or whether the conflict is irreconcilable.

*All excerpts have been taken from Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, Penguin Modern Classics.

Man and Technics – Oswald Spengler

Synopsis:

Written in the 1930s near the end of Oswald Spengler’s life, Man and Technics was his endeavor to demystify the struggles between humanity, nature, and technology. His thesis chronicles the application of technology by humanity in an attempt to control nature. Spengler believed that human control over nature will never be fully realized, but the technology which humanity has invented in such a pursuit will more and more control humanity via dependency.

Excerpts:

“The free-moving life of the animal is struggle, and nothing but struggle, and it is the tactics of its living, its superiority or inferiority in face of ‘the other’ (whether that ‘other’ be animate or inanimate Nature), which decides the history of this life, which settles whether its fate is to suffer the history of others or to be itself their history. Technics is the tactics of all life. It is the inner form of the process utilised in that struggle which is identical with life itself.

Technics is not to be understood in terms of tools. What matters is not how one fashions things, but the process of using them; not the weapon, but the battle. Modern warfare, in which the decisive element is tactics – that is, the technique of running the war, the techniques of inventing, producing, and handling the weapons being only items in the process as a whole – points to a general truth. There are innumerable techniques in which no tools are used at all: that of a lion outwitting a gazelle, for instance, or that of diplomacy.

“Every machine serves some one process and owes its existence to thought about this process. All our means of transport have developed out of the ideas of driving and rowing, sailing and flying, and not out of any concept such as that of a wagon or of a boat. Methods themselves are weapons. And consequently technics is in no wise a ‘part’ of economics, any more than economics (or, for that matter, war or politics) can claim to be a self-contained ‘part’ of life. They are all just sides of one active, fighting, and charged life.

“No one does anything without thinking of the moment when he shall have attained that which he willed. No one starts a war, or goes to sea, or even takes a walk without thinking of its duration and its ending. Every truly creative human being knows and fears the emptiness that follows upon the fulfilment of a work.

“Technics in man’s life is conscious, arbitrary, alterable, personal, inventive. It is learned and improved. Man has become the creator of his tactics of living – that is his grandeur and his doom. And the inner form of this creativeness we call culture – to be cultured, to cultivate, to suffer from culture. A man’s creations are the expression of this being in personal form.

*All excerpts have been taken from Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, Arktos Media Ltd.